John Foxx- It Feels Like a Time- Bomb is Ticking (interview)
Synth pioneer/ counter-culture icon icon John Foxx chatted to Skrufff this week about his upcoming album Evidence an also offered a typically bleak though perceptive assessment of the state of the (UK) nation, in particular his hometown of Manchester.
“Drive around East Manchester and see a manifestation of a wasted nation,” said John.
“Churches and School Halls and shops repurposed as fried chicken outlets or storage units for un-guessable goods or boarded up with corrugated iron and barbed wire . . . Alsations tied to abandoned fridges . . . Massive roaring traffic flow bisecting every neighbourhood. A Ballardian manifestation of all our true inner psyches, our collective nervous system laid out as shattered architecture. Successive governments ignore it all . . . It grows like Topsy . . . Everyone stranded – and it rains.”
“All such areas are inter-changable, right across the UK – London is actually mostly composed of this sort of floating world,” John continued.
“People have to live in it, make some sense of it. It all needs some air, some hope, some sunshine, some grace, some startling undeniable beauty, some place where innocence and love can have a value.”
“We just can’t waste people like this. Entire generations are losing all function and participation. It eats me up,” he said.
Growing up as a 60s hippy, he fully embraced the artist/ outsider/ musician lifestyle and as punk exploded across the UK in 1976. cofounded seminal electronic band Ultravox!
Pioneering synth- rock via three highly experimental albums with the band, he quit just as Ultravox were on the brink of commercial success, carving out a idiosyncratic solo career that he’s sustained ever since alongside a parallel career as a lecturer and graphic designer.
Three decades on, he’s recruited collaborators including Matthew Dear, The Soft Moon, Xeno & Oaklander, Tara Busch and Gazelle Twin for his new album (co-produced with long term collaborator Benge under their monicker John Foxx And The Maths).
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): How did you select your collaborators this time?
John Foxx: “They are all from Benge’s studio really. It’s a very lively scene. Just by Hoxton Square, so everyone enjoys being there. Hannah (Peer) and Serafina (Steel) were working in the studio and I liked what I heard. When Benge decided to make the Maths, we felt we had to get them to join. They both have their own careers so it’s a real compliment that they want to work with us. It’s all really a sort of unstable collective nebula. All orbiting around Benge. I like to feel his place is a cross between Warhol’s Factory and Conny Plank’s studio.”
Skrufff: How did the actual collaborative process work?
John Foxx: “Benge and I get together with the machines and let them dictate. Analogue gear is all on- part Dalek so you have to wrestle. The machines dictate the aesthetic and most of the choices because they’re so unpredictable. When you’ve got it, record it, because you won’t get it again.
That forces you to make decisions and go. Healthy stuff. No chance to get picky.”
Skrufff: Why cover Pink Floyd’s 70s Wish You Were Here track ‘Have a Cigar?’ And why now?
John Foxx: “We were asked to do it by Mojo magazine and I thought it turned out well – just as a piece of music and sound. Benge did a great job on the end section. The sentiment is from another era, but one I remember well as an apprentice.
I’ve always liked the Floyd. I saw them in 1965 at the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream at Alexander Palace. Then they were an underground experimental psychedelic band. They really meant something at that time – New London Adventures in Sound and Being. Like the Velvets in New York. Lennon and Brian Jones were among the new generation that came down to see them. It was Underground Central about to go over-ground in a big way. Then it all got a bit lost. But I still value that feeling of exhilaration, of participating in a new civilisation, discovering sunlight.
Mark Boyle did the lightshows and a few beautiful random happenings. It all took place in this half ruined Victorian Gothic building with leaves blowing across the floor. I saw Dali’s Un Chien Andalou and Borowczeck and Jan Lenica films projected around the room. It really felt like a new world emerging. Next time anything comparable happened was Acid 1988/9, so those Technicolour Dream events were well ahead of the game.”
Skrufff: Why do you think EDM is suddenly popular now?
John Foxx: “Rave etc, is beautiful but when formalised it simply becomes a womb. You all synchronise to Big Mother’s deep heartbeat in a warm, safe place and float for hours. Then you get ejected and have to deal with the real. No fun catching a bus on a rainy morning after all that.
Like any other movement – when it’s formalised, it’s finished. It becomes Club 18-30. OK, if you like indiscriminate inebriation and fornication; otherwise, time to move on.”
Having said that, electronic music is bigger and wider than any other music in the world at the moment. It goes right from Cage and Musique Concrete to avant-rock, movie music, hip-hop, R&B, new classical to all forms of dance, to annoying your parents with Skrillex, to beautiful, to sweet pop, to psychedelic, to frightening, to Radiophonic, to unlabelled, to startlingly outer-edge intergenetic experimentalism and all possible inter-weavings and hybridisations – so there’s an awful lot to get involved with. Glorious isn’t it?
We sure have a lot of material to make our next generation of consensual hallucination from.”
Skrufff: Any tips for anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
John Foxx: “Don’t. Rethink everything. Redesign from the ground up. If ever an era needed radical new forms of being, it’s this one.”
John Foxx and The Maths play Cargo London 5 September and Bestival Isle Of Wight 6 September (with Hot Chip and Gary Numan)
Jonty Skrufff: http://listn.to/JontySkrufff